Dept. of Skeptical Scullys


Refaat is a simple man. He believes in science. He believes in the measurable. But he also believes in Murphy’s Law. And this is where his situation gets complicated. Because even though Refaat is a man of science, and doesn’t believe in ghosts, or bad luck, or the paranormal, he is surrounded by ghosts, bad luck, and the paranormal.

Dr. Refaat investigates a tomb.

Paranormal, Netflix’s new Egyptian language series, is based on a series of horror/thriller books written by the late Ahmad Khaled Towfeq and tells the story of haematologist and professor, Dr. Refaat Ismail, in 1960s Egypt, as he comes to grips with ancient curses, wicked spirits, and ghosts of the past.

The series starts off strong, with Refaat narrating to the audience, in first person, about his relationship to ghosts, or rather, one specific ghost from his past. Being of a scientific mind, Dr. Refaat sees it as nothing more than just a trick of the mind – something to humour, but not to believe. The series opens with Refaat’s 40th birthday, the arrival of an old classmate, Maggie, the discovery of an Egyptian mummy, and a curse that threatens not just those close to Refaat, but also all of Egypt and maybe even the world.

Dr. Refaat and his colleagues perform an autopsy on a newly discovered mummy in Paranormal.

As a series, Paranormal doesn’t quite live up to its potential. The mummy curse story arc is resolved fairly quickly (there’s a side adventure to a cave in the Libyan desert  to find a flower protected by a gorilla), before it moves on to a restless spirit, and the aforementioned ghost from his past. The series never really settles into a groove. Moving from one story to the next almost immediately, there’s a sense of rushing through the material, as if the writers are so excited by all the available stories that they tried to get through as many as they can in the first season. 

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Then again, that may be the way the books are written. Paranormal is based on a series of 81 books (YES, THAT’S RIGHT, EIGHTY ONE BOOKS!) by Ahmad Khaled Towfeq called Ma Waraa Al Tabiaa, which, unfortunately, seems to have never been translated into English.

Don’t get me wrong, Paranormal is a good start to a series that we’ll hopefully get to see more of. Dr. Refaat, as played by Egyptian Ahmed Amin, is a wonderfully complicated character. Despite all that he’s seen and experienced, he still resides very much in the Dana Scully school of thought. Dr. Refaat has a dark sense of humour, but only to himself. He says the opposite of what he means, except to himself. And as the series progresses, he becomes more and more weary at the world, both the physical, and the metaphysical. There’s a reluctance in Dr. Refaat to become an Egyptian Ghostbuster, mainly because he doesn’t believe in ghosts. It’s a compelling character with amazing potential.

Dr. Refaat sits at his desk looking at a letter sent by his old friend, Louis C. Ferre in Paranormal.

Paranormal is not your next big scare (I mean, I am the one reviewing it after all). The series doesn’t do jump scares. It’s a little creepy, but never outright scary. In fact, when the monsters do show up (like the aforementioned gorilla), it unfortunately turns out to be a little goofy, a little like CG from the early 2000s. Alas, the skill to work within budget limits and shoot around the goofy special effects, or the mediocre wire work, just isn’t there.

Paranormal is a good start. These are characters that can go places. Just a quick glance through the Wikipedia entry for the books will show you that. Whether we’ll be able to see more is the question. Paranormal is no Dark (Netflix’s first German series), or Suburra (Netflix’s first Italian series). But it’s also no Pasal Kau (Netflix’s first Malaysian movie).

Netflix, 1 season, 6 episodes
Creators: Amr Salama and Mohamed Hefzy
Writers: Amr Salama, Mahmoud Ezzat, Dina Maher, and Omar Khaled
Cast: Ahmed Amin, Razane Jammal, Aya Samaha, Reem Abd El Kader, Samma Ibrahim, Rushdi Al Shami, Batea Khalil, and Karim El Hakim

Paranormal is now streaming on Netflix.

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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